The Sisters B36

by Kurt Vonnegut – a Kilgore Trout story…

Kurt VonnegutOn the matriarchal planet Booboo in the Crab Nebula, there were three sisters whose last name was B-36. It could be only a coincidence that their family name was also that of an Earthling airplane designed to drop bombs on civilian populations with corrupt leaderships. Earth and Booboo were too far apart to ever communicate.

Another coincidence: The written language of Booboo was like English on Earth, in that it consisted of idiosyncratic arrangements in horizontal lines of twenty-six phonetic symbols, ten numbers, and about eight punctuation marks.

All three of the sisters were beautiful, so went Trout’s tale, but only two of them were popular, one a picture painter and the other a short story writer. Nobody could stand the third one, who was a scientist. She was so boring! All she could talk about was thermodynamics. She was envious. Her secret ambition was to make her two artistic sisters feel, to use a favorite expression of Trout’s, “like something the cat drug in.”

 

Trout said Booboolings were among the most adaptable creatures in the local family of galaxies. This was thanks to their great big brains, which could be programmed to do or not do, and feel or not feel, just about anything. You name it!

The programming wasn’t done surgically or electrically, or by any other sort of neurological intrusiveness. It was done socially, with nothing but talk, talk, talk. Grownups would speak to little Booboolings favorably about presumably appropriate and desirable feelings and deeds. The brains of the youngsters would respond by growing circuits that made civilized pleasures and behavior automatic.

It seemed a good idea, for example, when nothing much was really going on, for Booboolings to be beneficially excited by minimal stimuli, such as idiosyncratic arrangements in horizontal lines of twenty-six phonetic symbols, ten numbers, and eight or so punctuation marks, or dabs of pigment on flat surfaces in frames.

When a little Boobooling was reading a book, a grownup might interrupt to say, depending on what was happening in the book, “Isn’t that sad? The little girl’s nice little dog has just been run over by a garbage truck. Doesn’t that make you want to cry?” Or the grownup might say, about a very different sort of story, “Isn’t that funny? When that conceited old rich man stepped on a nimnim peel and fell into an open manhole, didn’t that make you practically pop a gut laughing?”

A nim-nim was a banana-like fruit on Booboo.

 

An immature Boobooling taken to an art gallery might be asked about a certain painting whether the woman in it was really smiling or not. Couldn’t she be sad about something, and still look that way? Is she married, do you think? Does she have a kid? Is she nice to it? Where do you think she’s going next? Does she want to go?

If there was a bowl of fruit in the painting, a grownup might ask, “Don’t those nim-nims look good enough to eat? Yummy yum yum!”

These examples of Boobooling pedagogy aren’t mine. They’re Kilgore Trout’s.

 

Thus were the brains of most, but not quite all, Booboolings made to grow circuits, microchips, if you like, which on Earth would be called imaginations. Yes, and it was precisely because a vast majority of Booboolings had imaginations that two of the B-36 sisters, the short story writer and the painter, were so beloved.

The bad sister had an imagination, all right, but not in the field of art appreciation. She wouldn’t read books or go to art galleries. She spent every spare minute when she was little in the garden of a lunatic asylum next door. The psychos in the garden were believed to be harmless, so her keeping them company was regarded as a laudably compassionate activity. But the nuts taught her thermodynamics and calculus and so on.

When the bad sister was a young woman, she and the nuts worked up designs for television cameras and transmitters and receivers. Then she got money from her very rich mom to manufacture and market these satanic devices, which made imaginations redundant. They were instantly popular because the shows were so attractive and no thinking was involved.

She made a lot of money, but what really pleased her was that her two sisters were starting to feel like something the cat drug in. Young Booboolings didn’t see any point in developing imaginations anymore, since all they had to do was turn on a switch and see all kinds of jazzy shit. They would look at a printed page or a painting and wonder how anybody could have gotten his or her rocks off looking at things that simple and dead.

 

The bad sister’s name was Nim-nim. When her parents named her that, they had no idea how unsweet she was going to be. And TV wasn’t the half of it! She was as unpopular as ever because she was as boring as ever, so she invented automobiles and computers and barbed wire and flamethrowers and land mines and machine guns and so on. That’s how pissed off she was.

 

New generations of Booboolings grew up without imaginations. Their appetites for diversions from boredom were perfectly satisfied by all the crap Nim-nim was selling them. Why not? What the heck.

Without imaginations, though, they couldn’t do what their ancestors had done, which was read

interesting, heartwarming stories in the faces of one another. So, according to Kilgore Trout, “Booboolings became among the most merciless creatures in the local family of galaxies.”

 

The Sisters B36 appears in the Kurt Vonnegut novel Timequake, available at Amazon.com.

 

Kurt VonnegutKurt Vonnegut Jr. was an American writer. In a career spanning over 50 years, Vonnegut published 14 novels, three short story collections, five plays, and five works of non-fiction. See more about Kurt Vonnegut at Vonnegut.com

 

 

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